Judge in Jones case won't be removed from contempt decision
February 18, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, February 18) -- The judge who presided over the Paula Jones case will stay on to consider contempt charges against President Bill Clinton, as lawyers for both sides say they won't seek her removal.
Judge Susan Webber Wright will decide whether to charge Clinton with contempt for denying under oath that he had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.
The judge had given both Clinton's attorneys and the Jones legal team the opportunity to ask for her recusal because of her contact with House impeachment manager Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas) during Clinton's Senate trial.
Both sides decided not to do so.
Though the Jones case has already been settled out of court, Wright informed lawyers Tuesday that she is considering citing Clinton for contempt for his deposition testimony.
For the White House, the contempt decision is important because it could complicate Clinton's legal jeopardy despite his acquittal in the Senate of charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
If the judge cites the president for contempt, he would probably face a financial penalty. It also could prompt Independent Counsel Ken Starr to seek an indictment against the president while in office.
In Clinton's deposition, he denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky. He also allowed his attorney, Robert Bennett, to introduce an affidavit to the court from Lewinsky denying any affair.
The president later admitted having an inappropriate intimate relationship with the former White House intern. While conceding that his deposition testimony in the Jones case may have been misleading, he maintains that his comments were "legally accurate" and that he did not commit perjury.
Wright first raised the possibility of contempt in a footnote to her decision September 1 to release a transcript of Clinton's testimony. She said Tuesday that she had waited to address the issue because of the impeachment trial and the fact that Jones' case had been pending before an appeals court until it was settled last November.
"Accordingly, I believe that now it is time for the court to address the contempt issue," she said in an order issued after a status conference with lawyers.
Contempt of court citations can result in hefty fines or even jail time. Wright gave no indication of what the result of the citation against Clinton might be or when a ruling could be expected.
Before the two sides made their decisions, Wright said she didn't think her contact with Hutchinson was sufficient to disqualify her from the case. If she had withdrawn, the contempt matter would have been decided by another judge.
Wright said she was not willing to be a witness in the impeachment proceeding and suggested that other people could provide the same evidence. Her law clerk, Barry Ward, later provided an affidavit about Clinton's deposition.
Jones alleged that Clinton, when he was governor of Arkansas, made a crude sexual advance in a room at a Little Rock hotel in 1991, and that her career suffered because she rejected his overtures. She was a state worker at the time.
She filed her lawsuit in 1994. Wright dismissed the suit April 1, but Jones appealed the decision. The appeal was pending when she and Clinton reached a settlement November 13 under which the president must pay Jones $850,000.
Wright's order emerged from a hearing Tuesday on rival claims to Jones' settlement by several legal teams who had represented her at different times.
The judge ordered the check deposited with the court within eight days for safekeeping pending a decision on how the money should be divided.
CNN's Bob Franken, Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash contributed to this report.
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